Imagine if Cleveland, a city of almost 400,000 people, didn’t have an adequate hospital. Imagine there is no emergency program and no public health outreach. They do not have the equipment needed to diagnose illnesses, and the medication needed is not available. This is the reality for the people of Boma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At age 13, Gaspard Nzita promised his mother he would build a hospital. It has been a dream of his ever since his sister died because the medication she needed was not available in their country. Nzita, a resident of Green, immigrated to the United States at age 17 to pursue that dream.

Now, after many challenges along the way including floods and fires, Nzita’s hospital, called St. Joseph Community Hospital, is ready to open its doors. All that’s left to do before the hospital can open is pay the storage tax and duty for holding the equipment while the hospital was constructed.

"I’m so excited," Nzita, said, who has been singing songs of praise and joy ever since the hospital was completed. "It’s been a dream come true with a lot of people’s (help)."

While there are some hospitals in Boma, the majority of them lack equipment and resources. Many residents also have to walk a long distance to reach a hospital.

"Most of (the hospitals), they don’t have what you need," Nzita said. "When people get sick, even if they can afford to pay, the pharmaceutical is not here to get what you need. Sometimes, especially in the villages, (doctors) just guess. Here they do all the tests to find out what is going on. Domestic equipment is the biggest problem we have in Africa."

Once Nzita’s hospital is open, his next step is to train medical and health professionals. Nzita plans to train individuals from the different villages in Boma then send them back to the village to work as a health professional in their community. Congo is desperately in need of more medical professionals.

"That’s the biggest gap we have between here and over there," Nzita said. "One doctor pretty much takes care between 10,000 and 16,000 people. We’re trying to bridge that gap."

Nzita has partnered with International Christian University of Congo to provide medical training for some of the members of the community.

"That way we get people from the local areas and train them as a nurse or doctor," Nzita said. "That’s our long-term program. We’ll get people trained and then send them back into the villages where they don’t even have one nurse."

The plan is to make individuals with a high school diploma or some college community health professionals. Nzita said this would reduce long walking. Training a doctor is also less expensive in Congo than in the United States.

Nzita said it takes $50 a month, or $600 a year, to get a resident through the nursing program, and $75, or $900 a year, a month to get a physician or doctor certified. This money covers the cost of books, tuition, one meal and other supplies needed.

"A lot of villages between the big city, they don’t have a hospital. They have to walk for miles," he said. "This school offers a well-trained program and very cheap. It’s very expensive over in the U.S."

The health professional training was delayed due to the political climate in Congo. Nzita said he is excited to begin filling this need and spreading professionals out across the country. Right now, Nzita said it’s not uncommon for 20 villages to have one nurse.

"We can supply them from the hospital with what they need and expand to the village that they come from," Nzita said.

Another key component of Nzita’s plan for his hospital is to improve community outreach and education.

Boma recently experienced a flood that devastated the community. One of the public health messages Nzita would like to educate Boma citizens would be how to handle flooding. Nzita said many residents don’t think of how the flooding can pollute the water supply, which affects cooking, washing and bathing.

"The whole city was messed up," Nzita said. "After the flood, we don’t just let it go. If they don’t learn to boil the water, there will be more disease. They don’t have any idea, so we have a chance when they are coming to get those kinds of health education out there."

Outside of the main building is a long, open building that will be used as a waiting area for those visiting the hospital. Nzita said he hopes to display videos for people to watch to educate them on issues like the floods.

"If you don’t teach them to prevent these diseases that they get, they just keep coming," Nzita said. "So we try to do both."

All donations are tax-deductible. Any residents interested in supporting students as they train to become medical professions, contact Nzita at 330-814-4358 or via email at ucicongo.com